Maturità: How Italian Students Graduate From High School
What is the so-called Maturità and why do Italian students fear it? To answer this question, let’s go through the Italian graduation process step-by-step.
First of all, Italian students are allowed to choose the subjects they wish to focus on more by deciding the type of high school (liceo) they want to attend. For all licei there is a common structure of subjects, but some are dedicated to humanistic and classical studies (classic liceo, where you can study Latin and Ancient Greek as well), some to scientific studies (scientific liceo), some to modern foreign languages (linguistic liceo), some to arts (artistic liceo), some to human sciences (human sciences liceo) and some to music (music and dance liceo).
At the end of their five years of high school, all students have to sit a state examination, the famous and feared Maturità (‘maturity exam’) or Esame di Stato (‘state exam’) in order to graduate. This exam is divided into a written and oral section, with the written part consisting of three tests.
The first one is identical nationwide, in that all Italian students receive the same outlines on the same day. During this test, students have six hours to write an essay in Italian, choosing between the text analysis form or the short essay/article form on given topics.
The second test is usually on the day after the first one. It differs according to the subject focus of high school, but it is identical nationwide for schools of the same type. For example, a mathematics test is issued to students of the scientific studies high school, while a pedagogy and psychology test is issued to students of the human sciences high schools. In my high school, which focuses on classical studies , students are required to translate a long passage from Latin or Ancient Greek in four hours. The subject of this second test alters every year and is decided by the Ministry of Education a few months before the exam takes place.
While these first two tests are tough, it’s the third test that students fear the most. The third test focuses on four selected subjects from the student’s fifth year program, but the student doesn’t know which of their many subjects are in the text before he/she takes it. It is the only part that’s not identical nationwide, as the questions are written by the single examining commissions. They can have either four subjects with three questions each or five subjects with two questions each. In each case, students only have three hours to complete it.
A couple of days after the third test of the written exam is complete, the oral section takes place. Before that, a letter of the alphabet is usually drawn to decide in which order students will go. The student is required to prepare a short essay, called tesina, on a free topic that they have to present in the first 10 minutes of the interview.
In the remaining 40-50 minutes, all teachers of the commission can ask any questions about their subject. During the exams, the examination boards are composed of three internal teachers belonging to the student’s school and three external teachers and an external president. The Ministry of Education decides which subjects will be assigned to the external teachers. Again, these subjects differ depending on the type of school.
The minimum score need to pass the exams is 60, although students can score up to 100 cum laude. These grades are calculated from three different sources. The first source are the credits that the student has accumulated during the last three years of schooling, with the maximum scores being assigned to students who have always had an average of grade of above 9 on a 10-point scale . The second part is made of the points received in the written section, for which the maximum score is 15 points for all three tests. Students can also score up to 30 points during the oral section. An extra 5 points can be awarded to the candidate by the examining commission if the sum of their oral and written exams is at least 70.
The grades are posted by the school a few weeks after all its students have completed their exam session. Easier said than done!